Take Up Your Cross
Friday, January 25, 2019
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” —Matthew 16:24
What does it mean to follow Jesus? I believe that we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified Jesus to soften our hearts toward all suffering, to help us see how we ourselves have been “bitten” by hatred and violence, and to know that God’s heart has always been softened toward us. In turning our gaze to this divine truth—in dropping our many modes of scapegoating and self-justification—we gain compassion toward ourselves and all others who suffer. It largely happens on the psychic and unconscious level, but that is exactly where our hurts and our will to violence lie, lodged in the primitive “lizard brain,” where we have almost no rational control.
A transformative religion must touch us at this primitive, brain-stem level, or it is not transformative. History is continually graced with people who somehow learned to act beyond and outside their self-interest and for the good of the world, people who clearly operated by a power larger than their own. The Nelson Mandelas of the world, the Oskar Schindlers, the Martin Luther King, Jrs. Add to them Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Cesar Chavez, and many other “unknown soldiers.” These inspiring figures give us strong evidence that the mind of Christ still inhabits the world. Most of us are fortunate to have crossed paths with many lesser-known persons who exhibit the same presence. I can’t say how one becomes such a person. All I can presume is that they all had their Christ moments, in which they stopped denying their own shadows, stopped projecting those shadows elsewhere, and agreed to own their deepest identity in God.
But it is not an enviable position, this Christian thing. Following Jesus is a vocation to share the fate of God for the life of the world. To allow what God for some reason allows—and uses. And to suffer ever so slightly what God suffers eternally.
This has little to do with believing the right things about God—beyond the fact that God is love. Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, both the good and the bad, and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves—these are the followers of Jesus Christ. They are the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God uses to transform the world. The cross, then, is a very dramatic image of what it takes to be usable for God. It does not mean you are going to heaven and others are not; rather, it means you have already entered heaven and thus can see things in a transcendent, whole, and healing way now.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019), 152-153.